Tuesday, 2 February 2016

A little help from my friends (Sarah-Elizabeth Byosiere)

Photo by Anoir Chafik | unsplash.com
As researchers, we spend our lives thinking, breathing, and even dreaming about our topics of interest.

I have focused my PhD topic over time and, finally, have decided that I'll assess 'the limits of perception and metacognition in animals by researching how dogs see and think about their environment'.

As I've gone through this process, I've found it more difficult to explain my interests and goals to my closest friends and family. Where I once relied heavily on their input and feedback, a 10-minute conversation to address a brief question can now turn into a 2-hour overview of basic principles and foundations.

This kind of dialogue can incite a great learning experience that I often feel hones my ability to understand my own research. As Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” However, it can be frustrating to repeat the same thing, to start from the beginning no matter how well you explain your research in plain English (especially at family gatherings!).

I’d spent significant time in a very small lab group in my career so far. I had very limited experience working with other students on similar research projects. Last year, though, I was fortunate enough to work at much larger institutions that were teeming with eager students. I was nervous about the sheer magnitude of these lab groups, but I quickly realised the importance and positive effect of my colleagues on my quality of life.

While I was hoping to gain some colleagues during my time as a graduate researcher, I didn’t expect these relationships encompass our lives outside of research.

The friendships extend far beyond my work and into my personal life as we partake in happy hour, weekend social events, and even vacations. On my first weekend alone in Vienna during my time at VetMedUni, my colleagues took me ice-skating in front of City Hall. More recently, a group of La Trobe University colleagues took me camping at Wilson’s Prom. Considering I sincerely dislike camping in general and have no experience (especially here in Australia with all the crazy dangerous wildlife), I had an amazing time. My friends took special care in pitching my tent, and making us dinner.

They provide me with camaraderie in and out of the workplace, and a shoulder to cry on regardless of whether the tears are caused by science or life (trust me there will be tears!).

I’ve only recently realised that these are friends who will be taking on this crazy academic world with me. They are people who will stay in similar fields, finish their PhDs and postdocs in concert with mine, and may be my future research collaborators. In my mind, they represent some of the most important future minds, and I am fortunate to call them my colleagues, peers, and friends.

So, if there was one thing I learned in 2015, it’s how amazing it is to have such friends. They provide a unique relationship that furthers my current research and generates ideas for future projects. They help me strive for academic and career success and, most importantly, they offer me the best personal advice, social experiences, and friendships that I’ve ever had.

Now that 2016 is here and we’re thinking about committing to New Year’s Resolutions, think about getting to know your research colleagues better. When you head to conferences, start by getting to know their former colleagues and introduce them to yours! I never realised how small the world could be within a given research topic, so you may already have mutual friends you’re unaware of.

You won’t just be meeting a fellow researcher who may spark an innovative research question, but a potential best friend - someone with whom to enjoy this fun and frantic research life you’ve got ahead of you!

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Sarah-Elizabeth Byosiere grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan (USA) and received her B.S. degree in Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience, and M.Sc in Biopsychology at the University of Michigan. 

She has spent the last 18 months exploring the world while collaborating with research labs at the University of Michigan, Duke University, VetMedUni Vienna, and now La Trobe University. 

She is currently in Bendigo as a graduate researcher in the Anthrozoology Research Group Dog Lab studying the cognitive abilities of dogs.

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